ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack. The SITE Intel Group says that the terrorists destroyed the naval ship with a guided missile. The images were widely broadcast. Time and Al Jazeera and many other newspapers and news stations published them.
No travel or cruise magazine will publish them, for obvious reasons.
Is it foreseeable that ISIS will attack a cruise ship? Of course, but you would never know that if you rely on the cruise industry or your local travel agent for information and advice.
The cruise industry has a nonchalant view of terrorism. It reassures its customers that it's allegedly safe to cruise in the Mediterranean. Costa and MSC (and five other cruise lines) scheduled calls in Tunis (La Goulette) even after the Bardo Museum massacre where 22 cruise passengers were slaughtered. The second attack in Tunisia was predictable and came in June when a single radicalized Muslim with a Kalashnikov gunned down 38 more tourists at the resorts in Sousse.
Cruise ships sailing in Mediterranean waters are sitting ducks. I have been criticized before for explaining how the terrorists will attack cruise passengers as they sail off the Coasts of Tunisia, Libya and Egypt.
Terrorists have demonstrated that they can blown up a U.S. Navy vessel (USS Cole - 16 years ago). When the jihdists want to focus the cross-hairs of their weapons on a slow moving cruise ship, they can easily do so. The only question is whether the action will be in the form of an external attack (suicidal jihadists on a small boat with explosives ram the ship or the terrorists fire RPG's into the hull), or whether the terrorists will try and board the ship and take the cruise passengers hostage and begin beheading them on video.
MSC and Costa sailed their guests into danger in March when terrorists slaughtered cruise tourists as they exited into the Tunis museum excursion site from cruise buses transporting them from the port. The cruise lines neither provided nor arranged security for their customers or, for that matter, announced even a single warning of the risks of danger.
Terrorists have attacked tourist spots in Tunisia before and would so again.
The cruise lines ignored the considerable risks posed by the ISIS and Al Queda terrorists growing in neighboring Libya and already festering in Tunisia. After the bloodshed, the cruise industry quickly launched a PR campaign stating that cruising to Tunis was safe.
Soon, MSC and Costa began rescheduling calls to Tunis, notwithstanding the loss of life.
Princess, Croisieres De France (CDF), Holland America Line, Viking Ocean Cruises and Star Clippers also scheduled cruise ship to head to Tunis, as reported by the Cruise Arabia website.
But then terrorists targeted a resort in Tunisia frequented by tourists. On June 26th, 38 tourists were killed. Terrible, gruesome deaths. These were not cruise vacationers, but mostly British and European families on holiday, so the story was not portrayed as an attack on the cruise industry.
Today, the prime minister of Tunisia says that additional plots, aimed at "massive deaths," are in the works. He earlier declared a state of emergency.
60 tourists to Tunisia were killed in the two deadly attack in Tunisia in the past three months. I suppose it doesn't really matter what the PR departments of the cruise lines say anymore. Their lack of credibility has been established. I believe Minister Habib Essid when he says that the terrorists are plotting the deaths of tourists, whether they arrive by cruise ship, airplane or bus.
I reached out today on Twitter and Facebook to determine which cruise lines canceled their stops in Tunis. A couple of passengers tell me that Costa, which canceled cruise after the March attacks but scheduled stops in August, just canceled some of their calls later this summer. But no word from any travel agents, or cruise lines for that matter, whether they are still selling cruises to North Africa.
July 9 2015 Update: MSC announced today that the "MSC Preziosa no longer will visit La Goulette, Tunisia between November 15, 2015 and April 23, 2016 as scheduled. The ship instead will stop in Valletta, Malta. Also affected are single sailings of the MSC Magnifica and MSC Poesia in November and December, respectively. Both of the ships instead will stop in Alicante, Spain."
July 10 2015 Update: According to Time magazine, the terrorist trained with extremists in Libya at the same time as the two gunmen who killed the 22 cruise passengers in the March attack during the Bardo museum excursion for Costa and MSC in Tunis.
"Thirty of the 38 people killed in Sousse were British tourists. Britain’s Foreign Office warned tourists Thursday to leave Tunisia as soon as possible, saying a further terrorist attack was 'highly likely.'”
Is the cruise industry taking terrorism seriously?
The reader then selects one of two possible answers:
No, it needs to do more ___
Yes, it's doing enough to protect passengers ___
So far, 92% of those responding answered No, with only 8%.saying Yes.
The poll confirms what I suspected about the cruise industry - that is is perceived by the public as pushing itineraries in the Middle East which are potentially dangerous with little concerned about the safety of the passengers.
Costa and MSC Cruises did not issue a single warning to their passengers before unloading them in Tunis. Both cruise lines were pushing excursions in Tunisia. Neither cruise line arranged for security for the buses targeted by the terrorists. The cruise excursion buses unloaded the passengers into a trap because of the negligence of the cruise lines.
Will the cruise industry wake up and protect their guests? It seems that the public thinks that the cruise lines can do a lot more.
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Photo Credit: Rene Grob via Wikimedia Creative Commons 3.0
Security failed the tourists from the Costa and MSC cruise ships visiting Tunisia last week. The result: 17 dead cruise passengers and two dozen injured.
Tunisia acknowledges it. The risk of jihadists attacking tourists was readily foreseeable. Security analysts and security forces blew it.
In response to this failure, Tunisia fired the country's leading security experts as well as high ranking police officers.
Two newspapers covered the firings.
Al Jazeera published Six Tunisia Police Chiefs Dismissed Over Museum Attack. The article explains that Tunisia's prime minister Habas Essid fired six police commanders, including those in charge of tourist security and intelligence teams. In addition, a police officer working at the museum was arrested for abandoning his post during the attack. Four other armed police officers "were having coffees and a snack" when terrorists struck the museum.
The Daily News published Tunisia Fires 5 Top Security Officials in Bardo Museum Attack Backlash. The article pointed out that the ousted officials include the director of Tunisia’s tourist police and the police chief for the neighborhood around the Bardo Museum. The decision was reportedly made after the prime minister visited the neighborhood of the attack and observed security problems. Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi reportedly also criticized security failures around last week’s attack.
But what about the security chief at Costa and MSC, including ship security officers and fleet-wide security directors? Why weren't they fired? They are just as responsible for the security failure. The cruise lines picked the port and sailed their guests into danger without any security protection or warnings. The cruise industry is not only refusing to take any responsibility for the massacre but the spokesperson for the Cruise Line International Association (CLIA) is boasting that "cruise ships are a safe and secure place for our guests in the rare event of a shore side incident."
MSC Cruises USA CEO Rick Sasso told Travel Pulse "There was no hint of terrorism or uncertainty in Tunisia before the attack . . . There are a zillion ports around the world, and we follow all of them. . . There was nothing going on there that indicated this should've been a concern."
I am amazed how clueless this cruise executive sounds. Tunisian soldiers were engaged in ongoing battles against Al Qaeda, there were prior suicides bombers which targeted hotels and museum attacks which targeted tourists. The UK issued a prior warning of a terrorist attack on tourist sites and the US repeatedly urged caution. ISIS was recruiting young men from mosques in Tunis to be trained and radicalized in Libya. And MSC sails in like everything is fine.
Tunisia should be commended for taking responsibility and cleaning house.
It's a shame that the PR department at CLIA and the CEO of MSC are engaged in their usual irresponsible shenanigans and gobbledygook.
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For the past couple of years I've been troubled by the increasing violence in North Africa and the Middle East and the unprecedented nature of the cruelty of jihadist terrorists who have beheaded and burned "infidels" alive. I have worried about various scenarios where cruise passengers are at risk of attack.
Our readers have sent us various scenarios of how cruise passengers are at risk on the high seas and in ports of call.
A terrorist fires a RPG into a cruise ship: Libya is awash in weapons after Colonel Muammar Gadaffi was killed and lost control of the country. Automatic weapons, rocket propelled grenades (RPG's), mortars, bazookas, and anti-aircraft guns have fallen into the hands of violent religious fanatics. The two Tunisian terrorist killed during the attack on Costa and MSC cruise passengers were trained in Libya. ISIS and Al Qaeda, of course, have access to weapons, including RPG's, throughout the Middle East.
Think it's far fetched? Think again. Al Qaeda has already used this weapon to attack tankers in the Middle East. In the video below, you can see the terrorists fire their weapons, yell Allah Akbar ("God is Great") and run off into the bushes. Cruise ships are easy targets, over three football fields long and 15 stories high, moving at only a few knots an hours while entering and leaving ports. A RPG would slice though a the aluminum hull like butter and cause fire, damage, injuries and death. They're sitting ducks without military escorts.
A USS Cole-style kamikaze attack on a cruise ship: Remember the U.S.S. Cole? 17 service men and women were murdered when suicide bombers rammed their speed boat loaded with explosives into the U.S. navy ship. Such an attack during a fueling operation while a fuel barge is alongside a cruise ship would result in a tremendous explosion with many hundreds of deaths.
Blowing up a tour excursion bus: There have been many tour buses filled with tourists which terrorists have attacked over the years. A bus with Korean tourists was exploded in Egypt last year. The saying "safety in numbers" doesn't apply to cruise passengers; its more likely to make you a target when you come off of a cruise ship and board a bus with fifty other passengers. You can see what a terrorist attack on a bus looks like in the video below.
Al Qaeda embeds themselves as crew members or passengers: After 9/11 and the attack on the twin towers, my office received a call from an agitated U.S. crew member (a musician). He was upset that other crew members on a U.S based cruise ship which sailed into Miami were literally cheering while watching televised images of the death and destruction. Some cruise lines boast that their crew come from 60 different countries. This may well be an asset in most circumstances but it underscores the fact that the crew members have loyalties to other countries and other causes than those shared by U.S. passengers.
". . . This isn't about the ports and the safety of them. A terrorist could be among you at the buffet, laying by the pool, playing slots, drinking at the bar … they lay in wait. They're completely legitimate looking like one of us. 50 of them could board a ship as a passenger with a clean record. They've been trained in other countries. They've lived in the countries they're in for years and they lay in wait anticipating their marching orders. Then three days into the cruise, they take over the ship and start killing passengers . . . And that's how it'll go down."
The cruise industry needs to wake up. Tunis was preventable. Greater attention to Al Qaeda and ISIS is necessary to avoid a similar if not worse attack on innocent passengers. Dangerous ports need to be avoided. In the past, Princess Cruises used security teams / police to accompany tour bus excursions in Egypt. Maritime security teams are also required in foreign ports of call to address the risk of waterborne attacks. Cruise lines are overflowing with cash. The cruise industry collects around $40 billion a year, pay their crew members peanuts and doesn't pay U.S. taxes. The industry needs to start investing some of those tens of millions of dollars into substantial security to keep their guests safe.
The article speculates whether cruise sales will drop following the Islamic State's massacre of cruise passenger's in Tunis last week.
In the last couple of years, first quarter "wave" sales were negatively impacted by the Costa Concordia disaster in January 2012 and the Carnival Triumph "poop cruise" in February 2013. The article suggests that whereas the sinking and engine room fire could arguably be blamed on the cruise lines, the public is not likely to fault the cruise lines for the terror attack last week.
I disagree with that premise. Costa and MSC sailed into a country with a history of fighting between Tunisian solders and Al Qaeda resulting in dozen of soldiers killed and wounded over the last two years. Tunisian men have been recruited to train in ISIS camps in Libya. There had been prior attacks against a popular museum in Tunisia and a suicide bomber blew himself up in a hotel frequented by tourists. What did the cruise lines think would happen after Tunisians were radicalized and trained to use automatic weapons in Libya and then returned home?
The public can easily conclude that the cruise lines sailed their guests into harm's way without warnings or any thought of providing security for the excursion buses.
But the cruise supporters are out in full force spinning the story to exculpate the cruise lines.
Another CLIA representative said: "Cruise ships are a safe and secure place for our guests in the rare event of a shore side incident."
The editor of Cruise Week, Mike Driscoll, spun the attack-on-cruise-passengers as not a "black eye" for cruising "because it's not the cruise lines' fault, and it didn't happen on a ship."
Travel Weekly interviewed a travel agent who said “I think we’re all keeping our fingers crossed that this will not have a negative impact.”
Travel Weekly published statements from the Cruise Line International Association (CLIA) who claims that "cruise lines have worked for many years with security and law enforcement authorities around the world to ensure passenger safety." CLIA claims that it has procedures to provide “an immediate and effective response to any (security) incident.”
I don't believe it for a second.
The day before the attack the cruise executives were salivating over expanding their markets into North Africa and making greater profits. Their minds were on money, not security.
Costa and MSC were caught flat-footed in Tunis.
A former cruise line security chief was highly critical of the absence of any security for the Costa and MSC cruise passengers.
CLIA and Travel publications like Travel Weekly will continue issuing statements and publishing stories claiming that cruise passengers are safe and sound in North Africa and the Middle East. But the specter of dead passengers certainly will scare customers away and drive down cruise sales, especially in the Mediterranean. If the cruise industry is going to cross its fingers, it better be in the hope that ISIS doesn't target a cruise ship.
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As the death toll increases in Tunis, the former Director of Princess Cruises says that cruise security was lax and the cruise lines failed to assess the danger associated with sailing passengers into Tunis.
Commander Mark Gaouette told IHS Maritime that cruise security measures for passengers should have been stronger.
"I believe the risk management process failed to properly assess the extremely volatile situation in North Africa," he said.
". . . at a minimum, more security should have been required for that excursion in the form of armed police or military escort, and armed presence at the museum itself."
Commander Gaouette is the author of "Cruising for Trouble: Cruise Ships as Soft Targets for Pirates, Terrorists and Common Criminals."
The death and injury tally ranges around 17 dead and 20 to 25 passengers injured.
I remain amazed that the Costa captain piloted the Costa Fascinosa out of the port in Tunis and left 13 passengers behind, not knowing whether they were dead or injured. I can't help but think of Costa Captain Schettino leaving passengers behind as he fled the sinking Concordia in Giglio. Do I have this wrong? To give the Fascinosa captain the benefit of the doubt, I can only assume that he may have been concerned that terrorists might attack the ship itself and slam RPG's into it's hull or gun their way up the gangway and look for hostages. In that sense, maybe it was prudent to escape the port as soon as possible, although it begs the question why Costa was there in the first place.
Why any cruise line would sail into Tunis is beyond me. In 2013 and 2014, many dozens of Tunisian soldiers were killed and even more injured in deadly attacks perpetrated by al-Qaeda and other Islamic fighters, according to an article titled Terror and Politics in Tunisia in the publication World Affairs. Tunisia is a major recruiting ground for ISIS. Recruits are trained in Iraq, Syria or Libya and then return to Tunisia radicalized.
Costa and MSC have stated that they will not call on Tunisia in the foreseeable future. To me that's like closing the stable door after the horse has bolted, as the saying goes. Whether these cruise ships will actually stay away remains to be seen. We have seen cruise lines announce with great fanfare that they are leaving a Caribbean port after a cruise passenger or employee has been killed ashore. They always return after the media attention dies down.
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Newspapers are reporting that several gunmen stormed a popular museum in Tunis, Tunisia today killing 17 tourists, as well as a police officer and Tunisian civilians. Some news accounts report that as many as two dozen people were also injured.
Two cruise ships were in port and had sent thousands of passengers into the city on excursions. CNN says that some of the cruise passengers were at the museum at the time of the attack. The Daily Mail reports that "a Tunisian tourist guide told how he 'stared death in the face' as terrorists opened fire on his clients in the attack which saw people shot as they exited cruise ship buses parked outside the museum."
CBS News says that the terrorists targeted tourist buses when they arrived at the museum. The terrorists, dressed in police uniforms, then opened fire on the tourists before they could reach the museum.
According to the Italian newspaper, The Local, a Costa cruise ship, the Fascinosa, with 3,161 registered passengers, was docked in Tunis at the time of the attack. Costa issued the following statement:
"On the occasion of today scheduled call some guests on cruise on board our Costa Fascinosa had a tour in the city. All the shore excursions organized by Costa during today stop in Tunis have been immediately recalled on board," the company said in a statement.
CNN says that the MSC Splendida was also in Tunis at the time of the attack.
The Italian newspaper stated that the Bardo museum is visited regularly by tourists, with many disembarking from Mediterranean cruises.
Commentators believe that the group is affiliated with an Islamic terrorist organization like ISIS. Tunisia is a major recruiting ground for ISIS.
The siege was the most violent attack on tourists in over a decade.
Mail Online has dramatic photos and video of the attack.
Costa stated on its website that the Costa Fascinosa left the port of Tunis at 1:55 PM. Upon departure, the captain reported that 13 passengers had not returned to the ship.
March 19 2015 Update:USA Today reports that "MSC Cruises said nine passengers from the Splendida were killed, 12 injured and six unaccounted-for, according to the AP. The Costa Fascinosa said 13 passengers had not returned on board when the ship left the port."
One question I am asked frequently is whether Islamic terrorists pose a threat to cruise ships. I received a couple of such inquiries in the last week. One from a mother in the U.K. whose son works on a cruise ship sailing the Mediterranean, and another from the father of a family in the U.S. thinking about taking a cruise from Spain to France, Italy, Greece and Turkey and back.
Yesterday several newspapers in Europe and the Middle East (Mail Online, Al Arabiya News) interviewed experts who have painted the scenario of speed boats operated by Islamic State terrorists attacking "fishing boats, cruise ships [and] small merchant ships" to capture people and parade them in orange jumpsuits before a video with a knife to their neck.
We have all seen the stories on CNN about the gruesome killing and beheading of innocent aid workers and journalists by ISIS in an effort to terrorize the televised world. In the last two weeks, we have also read stories about the barbaric burning-alive-in-a-cage of the Jordanian pilot and the beheading of twenty-one Egyptian Coptic Christians in Libya. We are, of course, all afraid to actually see the videos of the terrifying violence.
As we sit in front of the television in our homes here in the U.S., we all feel safe from the terrorists, don't we? The beheadings are, after all, over there, in foreign places like Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya and other unstable Arab countries.
But when U.S. citizens decide to fly to Europe and go on a cruise vacation with their family in the Mediterranean, are they placing themselves in harm's way?
In a word, yes.
The thought of Muslim terrorists hijacking a cruise ship is hardly new. Achille Laura instantly comes to mind. Forcing terrified cruise ship hostages into orange suits and executing them? al Queda has already planned that just a couple of years ago. CNN would cover the terror non-stop.
There are numerous studies by security companies and U.S. governmental organizations which have studied terrorist organizations and concluded that terrorism against cruise ships is likely.
The World Cruise Industry Review publication concluded several years ago that a likely terrorist scenario is the hijacking of a cruise ship and its passengers while terrorists kill passengers if demands are not met.
The issue has been discussed by a number of experts, including Commander Mark Gaouette who is the former director of security for Princess. He wrote a book "Cruising for Trouble" which specifically addresses the potential of a cruise ship as a target for terrorists.
15 years ago, 17 U.S. service men and women were brutally murdered when Islamic suicide bombers rammed their speed boat loaded with explosives into the U.S. navy ship, the U.S. Cole.
If the U.S. Navy can't protect its military fleet, what chances do thousands of U.S. tourists think they have of staying safe on a gigantic U.S. based cruise ship floating like a sitting duck in the harbor of Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt?
ISIS has already taken over port cities in Libya, which is strategically located in the middle of North Africa. It would be easy for ISIS to launch a suicide jihad-by-sea against cruise ships sailing to or from North Africa and the Middle East.
Jihadists are already "using cruise ships to sneak into war zones" says the Maritime Executive. The fear is that the radicals will shift their focus to making the ship itself the war zone.
Families thinking of cruising in the Pacific Northwest (Seattle, Vancouver, Alaska) may be reasonably safe from an ISIS attack. A terrorist attack seems extremely unlikely to happen in the Caribbean. But sailing into a port in Morocco, Tunisia or Egypt on a cruise ship? It's not a matter of if. It's just a matter of when.
The Associated Press (AP) reports that jihadi fighters are increasingly buying tickets on cruise ships to join extremists in battle zones in Syria and Iraq.
The AP states that jihadists are trying to bypass travel restrictions in neighboring Turkey.
According to the AP, Turkey says that it has been deporting hundreds of terrorists caught in airports and bus stations. But there are some 15,000 fighters or more from 81 countries traveling to the Middle East to fight for extreme Islamic causes.
The BBC reports that Islamic militants are using of cruise ships "more and more."
The AP quotes outgoing Interpol chief Ronald Noble as saying:
"Originally, our concern about people on cruise ships - dangerous people on cruise ships - really focused on the classic sort of rapist, burglar, or violent criminal. But as we've gathered data, we've realized that there are more and more reports that people are using cruise ships in order to get to launch pads, if you will - sort of closer to the conflict zones - of Syria and Iraq."
Terrorism is a concern for any kind of international travel. The current news does not suggest an attack by such groups on cruise ships but there is historical evidence of such attacks. We have written about plans uncovered two years ago by al Qaeda to seize cruise ships and dress passengers in orange jump suits and execute them. Three decades ago, Arab terrorists killed cruise passenger Leon Klinghoffer on the Achille Lauro cruise ship and a decade ago our U.S. Navy lost several dozen sailors who were blown up during the attack on the U.S.S. Cole by an al Qaeda group.
Several readers of Cruise Law News sent us articles today reporting that Greek police officers boarded the Costa Magica while it was in the Port in Piraeus, Greece and arrested four passengers who had possession of firearms.
Approximately 3,000 other passengers embarked from Venice on a seven-day Mediterranean cruise. Once the ship reached Greece, the Greek police boarded the Magica and arrested one woman and three men for possession of firearms (pistols).
The cruise ship was delayed departing from Piraeus because of the incident. The incident was not announced on the ship and the passengers seemed to be unaware of it.
The newspaper says that the news about the arrest of four passengers could not be found either in the Greek or in the Italian media. The newspaper interviewed crew members from Dubrovnik who explained the circumstances surrounding the arrests.
The newspaper say that the information was suppressed because it was bad for the cruise industry's business.
Those interviewed explained that there are 3,000 passengers and 6000 suitcases simultaneously screened in just a few hours and it is impossible to effectively screen so many passengers and luggage in such little time.
This is particularly worrying, the newspaper suggested, when the Islamic states repeatedly threaten harm to the Americans and their allies.
October 14, 2014 Update: Costa Crociere posted this statement on Twitter: "Segnalate alle autorità 5 persone che hanno tentato l'imbarco su Costa Magica con documenti falsi. Nessuna arma è stata trovata." Translated: "5 people reported to the authorities who have attempted boarding on Costa Magica with false documents. No weapon was found."
Photo Credit: Wikipedia / Abxbay Creative Commons 3.0
A number of news sources are reporting that the Tunisian government prohibited Israeli passengers from disembarking from a cruise ship at a stop at the Port of Tunis.
Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL), a U.S.-based cruise line, told the Israeli citizens that they were not welcome by the Tunisian government and had to stay aboard the cruise ship.
The ship involved is the Norwegian Jade.
B’nai Brith Canada released a statement yesterday stating that there were approximately 20 Israelis on board the NCL ship. They did not know in advance that they could not leave the ship during the port of call.
According to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA), “the cruise line had a responsibility to its passengers and (to) advise them of this discriminatory policy in advance,” B’nai Brith Canada CEO Frank Dimant said in a statement. “Better still the cruise line should avoid ports that have such policies.”
"During Norwegian Jade’s port call in La Goulette, Tunisia on Sunday, March 9, 2014, a small number of guests holding Israeli passports were not allowed to go ashore because of a last minute decision made by the Tunisian Government. Port taxes for the call in Tunisia are being refunded to these guests.
We apologize for any inconvenience to our guests and appreciate their understanding. We are reviewing this decision with the appropriate officials."
NCL's statement is pathetic. NCL should not be down-playing the incident like this. The Tunisian government's action should be immediately and unequivocally denounced in the strongest language possible.
This is not about returning nominal port taxes to inconvenienced guests. It is about much deeper and important issues. No citizens of any nation should be subjected to such discrimination. The fact that an Arab nation would exhibit such contempt and hostility against Israel is particularly despicable.
Tunisia's actions sent a clear message to Israeli citizens. NCL's response should be equally clear. The only reasonable action is for NCL and the cruise industry to boycott Tunis as a port.
March 11, 2014 Update: NCL is boycotting Tunisia. Here's the NCL statement by CEO Sheehan:
“We want to send a strong message to Tunisia and ports around the world that we will not tolerate such random acts of discrimination against our guests. We are outraged by this act and the fact that we were not notified in advance of this practice. We apologize sincerely to our guests who were affected and want them to know that we have taken the appropriate action in response.”
NCL announced the boycott during the Cruise Shipping Miami (CSM2014) today. I walked by the Tunisia delegation (photo left). They must be feeling rather foolish.
Photo Credit: Top - Wikipedia / Ivan T.; bottom - Jim Walker
Newspapers in Cyprus and Israel are reporting that security forces in Cyprus thwarted a planned terror attack against Israeli tourists.
Cypriot security forces seized a powerful explosive in the port of Limassol, local paper Alithia reported. The explosive was described as capable of causing "massive damage."
The newspapers state that the perpetrators intended to target Israeli tourists visiting on cruise ships to Cyprus which is a popular tourist destination for Israelis.
Earlier this summer, Cyprus arrested a Lebanese man with links to Hezbollah who was planning attacks on Israelis in the country. Israel has said the attacks were part of a concerted effort by Iran, which employs the Lebanese Shiite militant group Hezbollah as its proxy to target Israelis around the world.
No one in the U.S. seems to have reported on this story.
Two weeks ago, I wrote an article about the targeting of cruise passengers by terrorists:
The World Cruise Industry Review publication concluded that the most likely terrorist scenario is the hijacking of a cruise ship and its passengers: "A cruise ship is boarded and commandeered, while perpetrators hold and potentially injure or kill passengers if demands are not met – as in the Achille Lauroattack."
The issue has been written about by a number of experts, including Commander Mark Gaouette who is the former director of security for Princess cruise line. He wrote a book specifically addressing the issue of cruise ships as a target for terrorists.
Twenty-seven years ago today, the world saw terrifying television images of Palestinian terrorists holding passengers aboard the Achille Lauro cruise ship hostage. The terrorists demanded the release of 50 Palestinians held in Israeli jails.
There were over 20 nationalities of passengers booked on the cruise, but the terrorists stated that Americans would be the first to be executed if their demands were not met.
Leon Klinghoffer, age 69, was from New York City and was vacationing with his wife, Marilyn, and their friends, when the Achille Lauro sailed for Port Said, Egypt. Although Mr. Klinghoffer was disabled and in a wheelchair, the terrorists picked him to be the first to die. They shot him in the chest and head, and then forced two crew members to dump him and his wheelchair over the side of the cruise ship.
That terrible crime occurred in October 1985. Now 27 years later, are cruise passengers, particularly Americans, any safer?
We have seen civil unrest across North Africa. President Mubarek is gone from Egypt and Colonel Gaddafi of Libya is dead. Good riddance to both I say, but both countries now seem more dangerous to Americans than ever. Last month we saw anti-American demonstrations on the 9/11 anniversary in both of these countries, and the murder of the U.S. Ambassador to Libya in Benghazi.
On the front page above the crease of the New York Times this morning are several articles about violence in Syria with a photo of a Syrian firing a Kalashnikov rifle. I not sure who is fighting who anymore but they all seem to have the potential to take their violence to U.S. interests.
In April I blogged about a plot where Arab terrorists envisioned hijacking a U.S. based cruise ship, forcing the passengers to wear orange Guantanamo-like jump suits and then videotaping their execution.
The World Cruise Industry Review concluded that the most likely terrorist scenario is the hijacking of a cruise ship and its passengers: "A cruise ship is boarded and commandeered, while perpetrators hold and potentially injure or kill passengers if demands are not met – as in the Achille Lauro attack."
27 years after Leon Klinghoffer's dead body was dumped into the Mediterranean Sea, the danger of terrorism against cruise ship passengers seems greater than ever before. Have cruise ships increased the number of security guards aboard their cruise ships? I doubt it. Every cabin occupied by a security guard means less revenue for the cruise lines.
The current strategy seems to be to simply skip ports in Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia until things calm down. But that's a short turn fix; when the street protests are over, there remains the risk of jihadists plotting a cruise ship to target. Will the cruise security teams be ready?
If terrorists can over-power several heavily armed U.S. Marines and kill our Ambassador in Libya, does anyone really think that they are safe sailing on a Holland America Line or Princess cruise ship sailing into Tunis or Port Said?
The disturbing trend of violence against the U.S. in places like Libya and Egypt is causing the cruise lines to scramble to swap out ports of call in North Africa for ports in Italy and Malta.
HAL's Ryndam skipped a port Tunisia yesterday and instead visited Sardinia, Italy. Royal Caribbean's Mariner of the Seas will avoid Alexandria, Egypt next week and will call on Sicily and Valletta, Malta on the next two days. Cunard's Queen Elizabeth skipped a call today in Alexandria and will visit Rhodes tomorrow.
Cruise ships have long been considered likely targets for jihadist terrorists.
There are numerous studies by security companies and U.S. governmental organizations which have studied terrorist organizations and concluded that terrorism against cruise ships is likely. Take a look at this report by the RAND organization.
The World Cruise Industry Review publication concluded that the most likely terrorist scenario is the hijacking of a cruise ship and its passengers: "A cruise ship is boarded and commandeered, while perpetrators hold and potentially injure or kill passengers if demands are not met – as in the Achille Lauro attack."
When I was a kid, my family lived in Tripoli Libya starting in 1965 until the 80's. The Libyan people back then (mostly Sunni Muslims) were peaceful. But today? Libya, Egypt, Tunisia or Morocco are the last places on earth I would sail my family to.
Cruise ships are simply not equipped to handle a terrorist attack. Cruise ship security can't even handle drunk passengers. And I would not trust the port authorities in these Arab countries to provide adequate protection against Islamic fanatics strapped with explosives who would love to blow up a cruise ship with Americans aboard.
Update: Join the discussion on our facebook page - most viewers don't have a high regard for the ability of cruise ship security guards to protect your family from al-Qaeda.
There is a disturbing story today in CNN entitled "Documents Reveal al Qaeda's Plans to Seize Cruise Ships . . ." The CNN article explains that an al Qaeda operative was caught with encoded digital data which, once deciphered, revealed some of the terror group's "most audacious plots and a road map for future operations."
The terrorist group had far reaching plans to conduct operations in Europe and to kill cruise ship passengers as part of its reign of terror.
The CNN article was based on the work of investigative journalist Yassin Musharbash, a reporter with the German newspaper Die Zeit, who was the first to report on the documents. The CNN articles states:
"One plan: to seize passenger ships. According to Musharbash, the writer "says that we could hijack a passenger ship and use it to pressurize the public."
Musharbash takes that to mean that the terrorists "would then start executing passengers on those ships and demand the release of particular prisoners."
The plan would include dressing passengers in orange jump suits, as if they were al Qaeda prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, and then videotaping their execution."
Are cruise ships prepared to deal with a well organized attack by a jihadist terrorist organization?
May 1, 2012 Update: Former Director of Security at Princess Cruises, Commander Mark Gaouette, left a comment below, pointing out that Islamic extremists have taken steps to target cruise ships over the past decade. Commander Gaouette has also worked for Homeland Security and is an expert on the subject of cruise ship safety and the threat of international terrorism.
Gaouette authored a best selling book "Cruising for Trouble: Cruise Ships as Soft Targets for Pirates, Terrorists, and Common Criminals" which explains that cruise lines are not taking adequate steps to protect passengers from harm. One reviewer stated: "The chapters about terrorism were so interesting it was hard to put down and should raise some serious red flags with the cruise industry. I think this book should represent a real sea-change of how security and safety on these vessels is regulated by the governments of the world, marketed and perceived to you and me the consumer, and how the cruise line industry conducts their business in general."
The South Florida Business Journal covered the story today, stating: "The Coast Guard, cruise ship and facility operators, and law enforcement officials generally believe waterside attacks are a concern for cruise ships," a 2010 General Accounting Office report said. "Agency officials and terrorism researchers also identified terrorists boarding a cruise ship as a concern."
Here is the CNN video:
Do you believe that the cruise industry has done enough to protect passengers from terrorism, or are cruise vacationers sitting ducks? Please leave a comment below.
CBS Channel 4 reported today that a check of a suspicious package at the Port of Miami resulted in the evacuation of a cruise ship terminal. The evacuation was ordered after a police dog alerted to the package.
Miami police ordered the evacuation of Terminal C, which was in use Friday by NCL's Norwegian Sky cruise ship. CBS reported that the evacuation covered only cruise and port employees working in the terminal because cruise passengers arriving Friday had yet to be allowed inside to board Friday’s cruise.
The Miami-Dade bomb squad and HazMat crews were was called to check the package. A port official eventually said the package turned was harmless.
The AP is reporting that a twenty-three year man, who had apparently been placed on a "no-fly" list, traveled from Oregon to New York by train and then boarded a cruise ship in order to sail to England.
The article identifies Michael Migliore as a "Muslim convert" who had tried unsuccessfully for months to fly to Italy, where he planned to live with his mother.
According to the AP, Migliore says he is on the no-fly list because "he refused to cooperate with FBI agents who wanted to question him after an acquaintance was charged in a plot to bomb a Christmas tree lighting ceremony in Portland."
After being barred from flying, Mr. Migliore decided to travel across the U.S. by train and then sail on a cruise ship to Europe. Once he arrived in England the British police arrested him.
Now this strikes me as rather strange. I don't know Mr. Migliore. I have no idea whether he is a potential terrorist threat or a nice guy who was arbitrarily labeled a threat because he converted to Islam. I tend to sympathize with U.S. citizens having their liberties taken away without notice or due process.
But if the U.S. really placed him on a "no-fly" list because of a good faith belief that he is prone to blow up a airplane, why didn't it place him on a "no-cruise" list? This started me thinking - is there such a thing as a "no-cruise" list? If not, why not? If you are inclined to take down an aircraft, it seems like a cruise ship is an equally attractive target.
Does the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA), Homeland Security, the FBI and Customs and Border people share information of potential dangers in the air and on the sea? If so, why is someone who is such a danger to be placed on a "no-fly" list permitted to board a cruise ship for a transatlantic cruise?
This weekend our television has alternated between college football games and documentaries about the horror of 9/11.
Where were you on 9/11? many of the special programs seem to ask.
I was in my office talking to Dad who was with my Mom visiting my sister in Park City, Utah. I was with him on the telephone when the first tower began to fall. I remember him yelling "holy shit son the tower is falling!" We then both hung up to watch the spectacle.
There have been some insightful articles about how 9/11 disrupted our lives and changed our perspective of the world around us. The Connecticut Post published an interesting article "A September Cruise Leads Passenger Home to a Changed City" which is the account of a real estate agent in Connecticut who goes with her husband on a cruise from Southampton when the plane struck the twin towers.
The twin towers gone. How is that possible?
The towers were a landmark that seemed to always be in the background of every cruise ship photographed in New York harbor. I found such a photo and thought it might be appropriate to add it to this article. But while uploading it, I realized that it shows the H.M.S Britanis which sank off of the coast of South Africa in October 2000.
9/11 to me brought home the fact that all of us are here on planet earth for a limited period of time. Great buildings can fall before our eyes. Magnificent ships can sink out of sight as if they never existed. Loved ones can leave us.
But the images of our experiences and the voices of our loved ones remain vivid and distinct today.
The Tribune newspaper in the Bahamas is reporting that a pleasure cruise on board the Discovery cruise ship turned into terror and aggravation for hundreds of passengers when a bomb threat stopped the ship at night en route to Port Everglades in Ft. Lauderdale. The incident began when Miami Dade Police Department received a 911 call around 9 PM that a man was aboard the ship with a gun and a bomb.
The Discovery cruise ship ship left Grand Bahama with approximately 900 passengers around 5 PM. The five-hour cruise back to Port Everglades usually arrives around 10.30 PM.
US Coast Guard and bomb squad technicians and bomb dogs boarded the cruise ship approximately 18 miles off the coast of Florida. The search was unproductive and the cruise ship returned to port around 4:00 AM. Law enforcement officers from Customs and Border Protection, the FBI, and the Broward County Sheriff Office Bomb Squad personnel and bomb detection dogs boarded the cruise ship.
The newspaper indicates that passengers were restricted to their cabins and in certain areas of the ship while the search was conducted. The newspaper also quotes a passenger stating that "everyone was very scared and some persons were even upset because of the long delay and late arrival into Fort Lauderdale."
One of the proposals recommended by the International Cruise Victims (ICV) organization is having "sea marshals" on cruise ships in order to protect passengers and respond to shipboard crimes.
Since 9-11 the Federal government has placed "air marshals" on airplanes. The ICV has attempted to ensure that cruise ships have the same level of security by supporting legislation in California requiring "sea marshals" on all cruise ships entering and departing cruise ports in that state.
Unfortunately, the cruise industry fought against an independent police force on cruise ships. The typical argument is that state law enforcement have no jurisdiction over foreign flag cruise ships on international waters. However, there is no question that states like California have jurisdiction to place sea marshals on cruise ships once the ships reach state waters to act as a police presence and to monitor environmental activities. Alaska has a very effective sea marshal program designed to monitor cruise ship waste water dumping.
The port of Los Angeles already has a sea marshal program. By all accounts it is successful and serves the valuable purpose of protecting passengers. As explained in an article today "Marshals Defend Port of L.A." in the Contra Costa Times, the port of Los Angeles has six sea marshals, as well as an additional eight to 10 port police officers who are trained to join the team. The L.A. sea marshal program is seperate from the sea marshal program operated by the U.S. Coast Guard which board vessels up to 12 miles offshore.
The sea marshal program in L.A. is geared toward addressing vulnerabilities as cruise ships and cargo vessel head into and out of the harbor. Sea marshals board cruise ships 3 miles from port. They are armed. They make sure that no one forces their way into the bridge to hijack the ship and uses it as a floating bomb or a battering ram, just as al-Qaida terrorists forced their way into the cockpits of jetliners on 9-11.
Sea marshals also inspect various areas of the cruise ship, look for explosives, drugs, suspicious activities, and coordinate underwater inspections by port police divers once the cruise ships reach port. They remain on the bridge, where they keep watch as the cruise ships sail out of the Port of Los Angeles. They return to port once the vessels reach 3 miles offshore.
The newspaper interviewed John Holmes, the deputy executive director of the Port of Los Angeles, who said: "Our most precious cargo at the port are our cruise passengers . . . Anytime you get on a ship in Los Angeles and these guys come on board, I think it really gives people a sense of security."
It remains less than clear whether the sea marshals in Los Angeles have responsibility to handle reports of crime which occur at sea as the cruise ships sail back to California. Undoubtedly, the local sea marshals can liason with the Los Angeles Port Police and the FBI.
Los Angeles has proven that a sea marshal program on a state level can work. More ports and states need to follow Los Angeles's lead.
This month is the 25th year anniversary of the death of cruise ship passenger Leon Klinghoffer, an American Jew, who was killed by Palestinian terrorists who hijacked the cruise ship he was sailing on with his wife in the Mediterranean Sea in 1985.
Mr. Klinghoffer, age 69, was from New York City and was vacationing with his wife, Marilyn, and their friends when four heavily armed terrorists hijacked the Achille Lauro cruise ship, after it left Port Said, Egypt. Although Mr. Klinghoffer was disabled and in a wheelchair, the terrorists shot him in the chest and head, and then forced two crew members to dump him and the wheelchair he was confined to over the side of the cruise ship.
The terrorists demanded the captain sail the cruise ship to Syria and Israel release 50 Palestinian prisoners. After a two-day drama, the hijackers surrendered in exchange for a pledge of safe passage out of Egypt to Tunisia. But when an Egyptian jet tried to fly the hijackers away from justice, U.S. Navy F-14 fighters intercepted the jet and forced it to land in Sicily. The terrorists were taken into custody by Italian authorities. The four terrorists were convicted and sentenced to jail, but a "mediator," Abu Abbas, from the Palestinian Liberation Army (PLO) who planned the hijacking, was permitted to leave Italy to the outrage of Americans. (The U.S. Army subsequently captured Abbas during the 2003 invasion of Iraq).
The tragic incident is known for the brutal nature of the Palestinian terrorists against Mr. Klinghoffer, the involvement of the PLO, and the bold action of President Reagan in foiling the terrorists' escape.
But the the incident is also well known in legal circles for demonstrating the extraordinary steps which cruise lines take to limit their liability.
Mrs. Klinghoffer and the estate of Leon Klinghoffer (daughters Lisa and Ilsa were the administrators) filed suit in the Southern District of New York against the owner / operator / charterer of the Achille Lauro, travel agencies, various other defendants and, eventually, the PLO. Other passengers who were aboard the Achille Lauro during the hijacking also filed suit.
The families sued the cruise line defendants for failing to have adequate security to protect the passengers from the terrorist attack.
The cruise ship was operated by the Lauro Line and marketed by the Chandris Line whose risk management department was based in New York City. (The claims supervisor subsequently went to work for Royal Caribbean and Celebrity Cruises).
Rather than trying to reach a settlement with the grieving family, the cruise line defendants threw up every obstacle imaginable to prevent the Klinghoffer family from obtaining compensation. The cruise line denied responsibility and claimed that the attack was "unforseeable." They filed motions to dismiss claiming that they did not engage in business in the U.S. They argued that the forum selection clause (which we have discussed in other articles) in the passenger ticket limited their liability to only $10,000 and, in any event, any lawsuit had to be brought in Naples, Italy. The cruise line defendant then filed claims against the PLO, arguing that if anyone should be responsible for Mr. Klinghoffer's death it was the PLO for planning the hijacking of the cruise ship.
The lawsuits lasted over 10 years, at great emotional and financial expense of the Klinghoffer family.
Finally, the cases were resolved shortly before trial when the PLO made a confidential financial settlement which resulted in the creation of a non-profit organization, the Leon and Marilyn Klinghoffer Memorial Foundation.
As a result of the ordeal, our U.S. Congress enacted legislation which provides a basis to sue terrorist organizations when they are involved in the deaths of U.S. citizens. Cruise lines, however, remain free to use forum selection clauses and contractual limitations of liability to make it difficult for Americans to obtain compensation.
The lasting maritime law implications of Mr. Klinghoffer's death is that no cruise line can realistically claim that the hijacking of a cruise ship by a terrorist organization is "unforeseeable" - given the vivid memories of that terrible day twenty five years ago on the Achille Lauro.
Yesterday, a criminal barrister in London @CrimeCounsel asked me on Twitter my opinion of the Israeli action against the pro Palestinian flotilla.
I responded immediately that it was in violation of international law and morally indefensible.
For those cruise fans who are not current on international news, two days ago Israeli commandos boarded a cruise ship in international waters. The ship is the M/V Mavi Marmara passenger ship, formerly owned and operated by a Turkish ferry company and now owned by a Turkish Islamist charity, the Foundation for Human Rights and Freedom and Humanitarian Relief. The MaviMarmara, with around 700 Palestinian supporters, was sailing with food, toys and relief supplies for Palestinians in Gaza. Israel boarded the ship to enforce an embargo of Gaza.
Passengers on the cruise ship, called "activists" in many press accounts, attacked the commandos after they rappelled from a helicopter. Watch the video below. When the violence ended, Israeli forces had killed 9 passengers and injured 60 others. The passengers injured 10 Israeli soldiers, 2 critically.
My opinion remains that this was a clear violation of international maritime law. The U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea entitles vessels "free passage" on the high seas. It was also a morally indefensible attack on citizens in international waters. I received a lot of flak for my opinions. There are few people in the U.S. based cruise industry or courthouses in Miami who have much sympathy for the Palestinian cause, particularly after 9-11. The U.S. is preoccupied with fighting the war on terror and, in the process, every Arab relief agency is labeled as a tool for Al-Qaeda, Hamas, or Hezbollah.
But putting politics aside, this is a straight forward issue. International law prohibits the boarding of vessels in international waters. Attacking a relief ship in this manner is as illegal as engaging in piracy off of the coast of Somalia.
Some argue that Israel has the right to enforce the embargo and make certain that humanitarian shipments into Gaza do not include weapons. This may sound good, but it presupposes that the embargo is legal. The siege of Gaza is wrong and severely punishes Palestinians by depriving them of food, medical supplies and basic services. The U.N. told Israel to end the embargo in the first place.
International law also requires that only "proportional" force may be used in the face of violent resistance. Yes, the commandos were met with violence when they illegally boarded the vessel on the high seas. You can see this clearly in the video. But shooting protesters in the head with automatic weapons is not "proportional" or morally defensible, particularly when the commandos had no right to board the ship in the first place.
June 2nd Update:
There remains considerable debate regarding the legality of Israel's conduct, much of it turning on the issue whether the embargo itself is legal. 99% of the countries in the U.N. believe that its illegal (count me in on that issue) The U.S. and Israel disagree. Here are some articles to consider:
The local news media is reporting that Royal Caribbean recently received a bomb threat aboard the Liberty of the Seas cruise ship.
According to a news release by the U.S. Coast Guard, Royal Caribbean's reservation center in Wichita, Kansas received a call reporting a bomb aboard the cruise ship around 5:00 p.m. on Saturday, May 15th. Crew members searched the ship but did not find anything. The Liberty of the Seas proceeded on with the cruise and arrived back in Miami around 6:00 a.m. the next morning. FBI, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, and Customs and Border Protection agents then boarded the cruise ship to look for explosives, but they did not find anything.
Fortunately, these bomb threats turned out to be hoaxes. But what if they were real?
In this most recent bomb threat, the FBI and other federal agencies did not board the cruise ship until eleven hours later.
Are cruise lines equipped to handle a real terrorist threat on the high seas? Most cruise lines have as few as 2 or 3 security guards on duty at night and some lines do not monitor their surveillance cameras (except in the casinos). Is this adequate security for 3,000 to 4,000 passengers and crew?
Our experience suggests that the few security personnel on cruise ships have a difficult enough time deterring or responding to bar fights between drunken passengers. A real terrorist threat on the high seas will pose a real problem to the cruise industry.
Maritime & admiralty lawyer & attorney James M. Walker of Walker & O'Neill Law Firm, offering services related to injuries, sexual assaults, fires, negligence, rapes & disappearances on cruise ships, pirate & terrorist attacks, missing passengers, shore excursions, wrongful death and the Jones Act, serving cruise passengers, crew members, cabin attendants, utility workers, waiters, bar tenders, ship doctors and cleaners on cruise ships worldwide.
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